Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

by
In 2008, St. Croix residents Bryan, Beberman, and Francis took a Caribbean cruise aboard the Adventure of the Seas, stopping at several foreign ports before returning. to the United States. Some of the stops are known sources of narcotics. When they reboarded the ship in Puerto Rico, a can of shaving powder in Francis’s bag spilled over an officer for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The travelers claim that the officers' subsequent actions were retaliation for their laughing at that incident. The officers found nothing unlawful in their bags, but made a notation in the Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS) database that Francis had appeared “disoriented and nervous” and that it took him some time to state his employment. That database contained entries from 2000, 2004, and 2006 linking Bryan and Francis to suspicion of drug smuggling. Officers searched their cabins but found no contraband. The three travelers asserted Bivens claims against the officers for allegedly violating their Fourth Amendment rights and tort claims against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the officers and the government. The officers are entitled to qualified immunity and the government is shielded from liability under the FTCA’s discretionary function exception. View "Bryan v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Bistrian, a detainee at the Philadelphia FDC, awaiting trial for wire fraud was placed in the special housing unit (SHU) four times. He became an orderly, allowed to interact with other SHU inmates. A fellow inmate, Northington, asked him to pass notes between inmates. Bistrian told officers, which led to a surveillance operation. Bistrian secretly passed inmate notes to prison officials, who photocopied them and gave Bistrian the originals to pass along. Eventually, Bistrian accidentally gave a photocopy to an inmate. After his cooperation became known, he received threats and made prison officials aware of them. In June 2006, prison officials placed him in the recreation yard with Northington and other inmates, who brutally beat Bistrian. Officials yelled but did not enter the yard until more guards arrived. Bistrian suffered severe injuries. In December 2006, officials again placed him in the SHU, citing death threats against him. At a 2007 sentencing hearing, Bistrian objected to his treatment. Two days after Bistrian’s counsel pressed for an explanation of his SHU time, Bistrian was returned to the SHU. Bistrian alleges that Warden Levi, denying an appeal, said Bistrian “would never see the light of day again.” In Bistrian’s civil rights suit, the district court granted qualified immunity to some defendants but denied summary judgment on Bistrian’s "Bivens" constitutional claims. The Third Circuit affirmed in part. Bistrian has a cognizable Bivens claim for the alleged failure to protect him; an inmate’s claim that prison officials violated his Fifth Amendment rights by failing to protect him against a known risk of substantial harm does not present a new Bivens context. The punitive-detention and First Amendment retaliation claims do amount to an extension of Bivens into a new context; special factors counsel against creating a new Bivens remedy in those contexts. View "Bistrian v. Levi" on Justia Law

by
Philadelphia Officers stopped a car for a traffic violation. The driver, a front passenger (Robinson), and a rear passenger, Burke, produced identification. Officers noticed the smell of marijuana and saw marijuana residue and decided to search for drugs. Burke was removed and frisked first. Fritz recovered a gun on the floor where Burke had been sitting. Burke and Robinson fled. Burke was quickly apprehended. Officer Madara broadcast that Robinson was a Black male, approximately 6’0”-6’1”, 160-170 pounds, wearing dark blue pants and a red hoodie. The description did not mention any facial hair. Officers Powell and Cherry responded. Powell viewed a photograph of Robinson on the patrol car's computer screen. Less than one minute later, the officers saw an individual (Bey). Bey was a 32-year-old, dark-skinned African-American man with a long beard, weighing about 200 pounds and wearing black sweatpants and a hooded red puffer jacket. Robinson was a 21-year-old, light-skinned African American man with very little hair under his chin and a tattoo on his neck, weighing 160-170 pounds. The officers approached Bey, who had his back to them, and ordered him to show his hands. Bey complied and turned around. Officers recovered a gun. Bey, charged as a felon in possession of a firearm, unsuccessfully moved to suppress the gun. The Third Circuit reversed. While the initial stop was supported by reasonable suspicion, the continuation of that stop, after Bey turned around and police should have realized that Bey did not resemble Robinson, violated the Fourth Amendment. View "United States v. Bey" on Justia Law

by
A New Jersey woman dialed 911 and described an assailant on Grove Street as wearing a red hat, with braids, stating “he is beating her up really badly” and “I think he has a gun.” The caller hung up. East Orange police found a man matching the description (McCants) near 146 Grove Street within one minute, walking with a woman (Fulton). Officers engaged McCants and frisked him due to the “nature of the call.” During the pat down, an officer found a loaded handgun inside a fanny pack McCants was wearing. Officers placed McCants under arrest and recovered distributable quantities of heroin. Written police reports indicated that Fulton showed no signs of injury. McCants was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1) and possession with intent to distribute heroin, 21 U.S.C. 841(a); (b)(1)(C). The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of a motion to suppress and his 120-month sentence as a career offender. Viewing all the circumstances, the anonymous tip bore sufficient indicia of reliability and provided the officers with reasonable suspicion that justified the Terry stop. The caller used the 911 system to report an eyewitness account of domestic violence and provided the officers with a detailed description of the suspect and location, which were confirmed by the police. McCants had two prior convictions for second-degree robbery in New Jersey that qualified as crimes of violence under the Guidelines. View "United States v. McCants" on Justia Law

by
In response to the rise in active and mass shooting incidents in the United States, New Jersey enacted a law that limits the amount of ammunition that may be held in a single firearm magazine to no more than 10 rounds, N.J. Stat. 2C:39-1(y), 2C:39-3(j) . A magazine is an implement that increases the ammunition capacity of a firearm; LCMs, magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, allow a shooter to fire multiple shots in a matter of seconds without reloading. Rejecting a challenge citing the Second Amendment, the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, the Third Circuit held that New Jersey’s law reasonably fits the state’s interest in public safety and does not unconstitutionally burden the Second Amendment’s right to self-defense in the home. The law does not require gun owners to surrender their magazines but instead allows them to retain modified magazines or register firearms that have magazines that cannot be modified. Because retired law enforcement officers have training and experience that makes them different from ordinary citizens, the law’s exemption that permits them to possess magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds does not violate the Equal Protection Clause \ View "Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, Inc. v. Attorney General New Jersey" on Justia Law

by
After seeing an idling car, illegally parked in front of a store known for drug sales, officers waited for the driver to return, then approached the car. The driver admitted not having a driver’s license. Hester, the passenger, stated that he had a license and started to get out of the car. As he moved, an officer heard the familiar thud of a gun hitting the vehicle's floorboards. Another officer, who testified to seeing Hester drop the gun, verbally alerted the others. Hester attempted to run, but was apprehended. Officers near the vehicle confirmed the presence of a gun at the foot of the passenger’s seat. Hester was convicted as a felon in possession of a firearm following the denial of his motion to suppress. The court applied a four-level enhancement to Hester’s Guidelines range under the theory that Hester’s possession itself constituted New Jersey evidence tampering but varied downward to mitigate its effect, and sentenced Hester to 86 months’ imprisonment. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion to suppress but held that the application of the evidence tampering sentencing enhancement was erroneous. A traffic stop is a seizure of everyone in the stopped vehicle. Hester had submitted to the officers’ show of authority when he waited in the vehicle with the driver before and during questioning but there was objectively reasonable suspicion to support Hester’s seizure. View "United States v. Hester" on Justia Law

by
Then-New Jersey Governor Christie appointed Baroni as Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Baroni and Kelly, the Deputy Chief of Staff for New Jersey’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, engaged in a scheme to impose crippling gridlock on the Borough of Fort Lee after its mayor refused to endorse Christie’s 2013 reelection bid. Under the guise of conducting a “traffic study,” they conspired to limit Fort Lee motorists’ access to the George Washington Bridge (the world’s busiest bridge) over four days during the first week of the school year. Extensive media coverage of “Bridgegate” ensued. Baroni and Kelly were convicted of conspiracy to obtain by fraud, knowingly convert, or intentionally misapply property of an organization receiving federal benefits, 18 U.S.C. 371, and the substantive offense; conspiracy to commit wire fraud, section 1349, and the substantive offense; and conspiracy against civil rights, section 241, and the substantive offense. The Third Circuit affirmed the wire fraud convictions but vacated the civil rights convictions. The government presented evidence sufficient to prove defendants violated the wire fraud statute by depriving the Port Authority of, at a minimum, its money in the form of public employee labor. The court rejected an argument that Baroni possessed the unilateral authority to control Port Authority traffic patterns. There is no “clearly established” constitutional right to intrastate travel, so the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on the civil rights claims. View "United States v. Baroni" on Justia Law

by
The Third Circuit affirmed the order of the district court dismissing Appellant’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2241, holding that, although Appellant has been detained pending reveal proceedings since April 2016, the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment did not entitle Appellant to a new bond hearing at which the government would bear the burden of justifying his continued detention. Appellant entered the United States on a tourist visa, which he overstayed. A year later, an Interpol "Red Notice" requested by Russian identified Appellant as a fugitive wanted for prosecution on criminal fraud charges. On April 22, 2016, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained Appellant under 8 U.S.C. 1226(a) and initiated removal proceedings, which are still pending in an immigration court. Appellant filed this action alleging that his continued detention deprived him of due process unless the government could show clear and convincing evidence of risk of flight or danger to the community. The district court dismissed the petition. The Third Circuit affirmed. The dissent argued that where the Russian government has been employing Interpol Red Notices to pursue and harass opponents of the Russian regime and where Appellant had no criminal record anywhere, Appellant was entitled to a new hearing to review the finding of “danger to the community.” View "Borbot v. Warden Hudson County Correctio" on Justia Law

by
The Third Circuit vacated Defendant’s sentence, which included as a condition of his supervised release from prison a restriction on Defendant’s possession or use of computers or other electronic communication devices, holding that the restrictions were not tailored to the danger Defendant posed. Defendant pleaded guilty to using the internet to attempt to entice a child into engage in sexual acts. Defendant was sentenced to a term of imprisonment and a lifetime of supervised release. When Defendant violated the terms of his supervised release, a revocation hearing was held at which the judge imposed the condition forbidding Defendant to possess or use any computers, electronic communications devices, or electronic storage devices. The Third Circuit remanded for a new revocation hearing, concluding that restricting Defendant’s internet access was necessary to protect the public but that Defendant’s current conditions were not tailored to the danger he posed. View "United States v. Holena" on Justia Law

by
The Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant, a police officer, on Plaintiff’s action brought under 42 U.S.C. 1983, holding that the district court correctly found that the statute of limitations barred Plaintiff’s claims. After Defendant stopped Plaintiff’s car, searched him, and arrested him, Pennsylvania prosecuted him. The trial court denied Defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence, but the court of appeals reversed, concluding that the search violated the Fourth Amendment. Defendant later brought this suit asserting that Defendant conducted an unreasonable search and seizure and made a false arrest. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendant. The Third Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the statute of limitations ran from the time of the search rather than when the Pennsylvania court held the search unconstitutional; and (2) therefore, Defendant’s claim was time-barred. View "Nguyen v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania" on Justia Law